What is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?
Have other cities had success with BRT?
What are the environmental benefits of BRT?
What kind of bicycle and pedestrian improvements can be funded with BRT implementation?
How will BRT affect the economy?
How much will BRT cost, and where will the money come from?
Will BRT compete with other transit services such as Caltrain?
Why invest in BRT and not light rail?
Bus Rapid Transit? Give me Wi-Fi, convenience, and on-board lattes and we’ll talk.
Replace a car lane with a bus lane? How will that help my commute?
Will medians be removed?
If auto lanes are reduced, will traffic spill over to smaller side-streets?
Will BRT lanes eliminate left turn lanes?
Will parking be removed?
Will emergency vehicles be able to access the bus-only lanes?
Where can I find more information?
- What is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)? BRT is an efficient, reliable, and stress-free transportation option. The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is planning over thirty miles of BRT investments along Santa Clara County’s busiest bus routes, including the Alum Rock, El Camino, and Stevens Creek corridors. The Alum Rock BRT project has already broken ground and will begin service in 2015, while the two other projects are currently in the planning stages. VTA’s BRT stations will include real-time bus arrival information screens, ticket vending machines, and other conveniences. Efficient hybrid buses will offer free WiFi, a more comfortable interior, and triple the bicycle carrying capacity of the typical VTA bus. Plus, BRT won’t get stuck in traffic in areas where dedicated bus lanes are incorporated, improving on-time performance and making taking public transportation competitive with driving a car.
- Have other cities had success with BRT? BRT has been highly successful when effectively implemented across the globe, including here in the United States. For example: The Los Angeles Orange Line was expected to reach 22,000 average weekday boardings by 2020 but after only 6 years since it began service, the line already has about 28,000 boardings. Eugene’s BRT ridership is almost double what it was when service started in 2007, and ridership on Cleveland’s BRT line is 50% higher than when it opened a few years ago.
- What are the environmental benefits of BRT? Transportation is responsible for 35% of the Bay Area’s GHG emissions, and Santa Clara County represents one quarter of the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the Bay Area. This has implications not just for climate but also for our air quality and public health. Approximately 257,000 Santa Clara County children and adults have been diagnosed with asthma as of 2012 and 1,161 County residents were hospitalized in 2012 alone costing an average of $48,053 per hospitalization. Reducing wasteful solo-driving and encouraging public transportation use is one important way to reduce unhealthy air pollution, improve public health, and meet the requirements of California’s climate change laws (AB 32 and SB375). Nationally, 45 million barrels of oil a year are saved by using public transportation. Specifically, BRT will increase the reliability, convenience, and speed of the bus system and thus stimulate additional public transit use. VTA’s state-of-the-art BRT vehicles will run efficiently, conserving finite resources and minimizing air pollution. According to VTA staff, the El Camino BRT project alone could prevent 4,555 metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually.
- What kind of bicycle and pedestrian improvements can be funded with BRT implementation? Much of Santa Clara County’s street network is far from a pedestrian and bicycle paradise, and El Camino Real and Stevens Creek Blvd are no exception. If cities choose to adopt bus-only lanes, VTA can install colored or buffered bike lanes and pedestrian improvements such as more visible crosswalks, more signalized intersections to break up the long distances between crosswalks, and sidewalk extensions near intersections to calm traffic and reduce the distance to cross the street for people on foot. In other words, VTA can finance the kind of livable and safe street design that each city prefers with the dedicated lane approach. Because mixed flow is a minor investment involving upgrading a few bus stops, cities will not be able to leverage VTA’s investment to significantly improve the pedestrian and cycling environment in these areas.
- How will BRT affect the economy? For every $1 invested in public transportation, $4 in economic returns is generated. That’s because great public transit is seen as an amenity which in turns creates more demand for living, working, and doing business nearby. This will be particularly true in areas where dedicated bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian amenities are incorporated to help make the planned BRT commercial corridors more of a destination. According to VTA staff, the El Camino BRT project’s direct and indirect benefits alone could help generate 4,780 jobs.
- How much will BRT cost, and where will the money come from? BRT construction costs depend on the context of each corridor and the type of design chosen, but BRT typically costs considerably less than light rail. The El Camino BRT project will cost $67-$183 million depending on how many miles of dedicated lanes the project includes. As the number of dedicated lane miles increases, so does the capital costs; however, the operating costs go down as the efficiency of the service improves leading to the capital costs being recaptured in a matter of years. The Santa Clara County Measure A half cent sales tax will fund the El Camino and Stevens Creek BRT projects, and VTA will seek to match these funds with federal and potentially state funding.
- Will BRT compete with other transit services such as Caltrain? BRT will complement, rather than compete with, transit services such as Caltrain. Caltrain has serious capacity issues that will become increasingly acute as employment and housing growth continues. The El Camino BRT project can supplement Caltrain service in some areas such as between downtown Palo Alto and Mountain View and help relieve some of the overcrowding on Caltrain. Also, there are considerable differences between the two services. Caltrain only makes three stops directly on El Camino Real, whereas BRT will make 15 stops along the corridor, providing access to more destinations. Caltrain is also faster because of its overpasses and fully dedicated right of way. On the other hand, BRT will be more frequent and more affordable at $2 for a one-way trip. Finally, the average trip length is expected to be 20+ miles on Caltrain, compared to 7 miles on BRT according to VTA staff, meaning that the type of trip between the two services is also considerably different.
- Why invest in BRT and not light rail? First, light rail is more expensive. BRT will cost $8-13 million a mile to build, compared to $100 million a mile for light rail. BRT is also expected to cost 40% less to operate. Second, BRT is more flexible — buses can adjust their routes to get around traffic accidents and to serve changing passenger route needs over time. For example, BRT is planned to connect to the Berryessa BART station as a spur of the Alum Rock BRT line. The Berryessa spur was not originally envisioned as part of VTA original plans but was added after it was determined that a high quality BART connection to downtown San Jose was necessary. That said, BRT can be converted to light rail over time once ridership warrants the investment and funds become available.
- Bus Rapid Transit? Give me Wi-Fi, convenience, and on-board lattes and we’ll talk. BRT vehicles will have wireless internet access and many conveniences such as real-time bus arrival information at each station. Plus, with exclusive bus lanes, you’ll never need to worry about traffic again. No plan for latté services yet.
- Replace a car lane with a bus lane? How will that help my commute? The population of Santa Clara County is projected to increase by 28% by 2035, or by roughly 7 times the current population of the City of Mountain View. With our growing population, everyone’s commute will be impacted unless we invest in high-quality public transportation options today and focus on moving people more efficiently, not just cars. Investing in bus-only lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian improvements will not just create a more livable and safe corridor, but it will also encourage more people to use alternative modes of transportation and remove cars from the road. According to VTA staff, along some areas of the El Camino corridor, the flow of traffic will actually be smoother in the future with dedicated bus lanes than if we maintain El Camino Real as it is today.
- Will medians be removed? Medians will not be removed. The question is how wide the medians should be and how the street space should be divided among uses. For example, El Camino Real is 120 feet wide, enough for a complete street with a 10 foot wide median, bus-only lanes, bike lanes, four lanes for cars, and on-street parking.
- If auto lanes are reduced, will traffic spill over to smaller side-streets? Neighborhood streets are typically slower for autos than major arterials and it’s unlikely that long distance commuters will use smaller residential streets to get to their destinations; however, traffic on local side streets might be an issue in some areas as traffic congestion increases over time with population growth. The Environmental Impact Report for the BRT projects will identify any traffic impacts and cities can request mitigations where significant impacts are identified, such as traffic calming improvements that can reduce car traffic on residential streets while funneling auto trips to primary thoroughfares.
- Will BRT lanes eliminate left turn lanes? According to VTA, no signalized single left turn lanes will be eliminated along El Camino Real, and VTA is willing to incorporate additional signalized left-turns where desired, providing safer access for not just motorists but also to cyclists and pedestrians. Non-signalized left turns that currently exist will need to be converted to signalized left turns or eliminated. Locations where double left turn lanes exist may need to be reduced to single left turns. Any potential traffic implications of these changes will be reviewed in the Environmental Impact Report for each project.
- Will parking be removed? The amount of on-street parking removal depends on the quantity and placement of BRT stations, as well as the width of auto lanes, the width of the median, and whether bike lanes are incorporated. The Environmental Impact Report for each BRT project will provide a thorough parking analysis of where and how much of the parking on El Camino Real is well used and critical for local businesses. Parking and loading zones are sensitive issues. A variety of steps can be taken to protect parking needs while providing better transportation options which in turn will actually decrease the need for parking.
- Will emergency vehicles be able to access the bus-only lanes? Yes, a 3-inch curb will separate car traffic from dedicated bus lanes, but the curbs will be low enough to allow emergency vehicles access, improving emergency response times.
- Where can I find more information? Visit VTA’s website to find out more about Santa Clara County’s BRT plans and upcoming public meetings or to connect directly with VTA staff. You can also check our Coalition’s events calendar for other opportunities to learn and engage in the planning process.